The Forgotten Realms wiki page on succubi tell us (specifically in footnote 1) that in 1e, 2e and 3.Xe1, succubi were chaotic evil demons, but then were retconned to be lawful evil2 devils in 4e and have now just been made into generic neutral evil "fiends" in 5e, presumably in an attempt to avoid contradicting any previous editions' lore.

Unlike with the Shadar-kai, I believe there was supposed to be some kind of canonical in-universe lore reason as to why these demons became devils. What was that reason? I assume it appears in some 4e material somewhere? I'm only really familiar with 5e material...

This question used to have another part to it, but that been split out into its own question; see: What is the in-universe explanation for why succubi, who were demons, became "neutral evil fiends" in 5e?

1 Actually, the footnote on the Forgotten Realms wiki page only says 3e, but I know it was still true in 3.5e because of Neverwinter Nights 2, which was a video game based on 3.5e. In this game they were considered demons, which is incidentally my introduction to D&D and why I consider succubi being demons to be what they "should" be.

2 I say "lawful evil", because that's what a devil's alignment is, but I'm aware that 4e changed the alignment system, so it might not be so accurate to claim they were "lawful evil" in 4e, but at the very least, in the context of D&D overall, they would have been considered lawful evil all the time they were considered to be devils.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I believe these two questions are closely related enough to sit in the same post, even though one is about 4e and one is about 5e, but if people feel differently, I can split this up into two posts (one about the "why did they become devils in 4e" part and one about the "what happened in 5e" part) \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jul 14 at 9:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ While it doesn't exactly answer your question, you may be interested in this video: What They Don't Tell You About Succubus - D&D \$\endgroup\$ – Himitsu_no_Yami Jul 14 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you should split this up. This is a two-part question and someone can have an answer for one part but be clueless on the other. \$\endgroup\$ – Glazius Jul 14 at 22:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Glazius I agree; I have split this up into two questions. As someone familiar with 4e, do you have an answer for this now-4e-specific question? \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jul 15 at 6:08

They're in a different cosmology.

Wizards Presents: Worlds and Monsters, p.66-67 and 73, establishes the behind-the-scenes reasoning: among many lore changes introduced in 4e, designers redefined demons as monstrous and devils as humanoid, which required succubi to become devils. Chris Perkins writes:

The succubus succubus, for example, is the D&D game's iconic seductress, and seduction is very much in keeping with the behaviour of devils. The succubus also hews more closely to the general description put forward for devils, which is to say that she's humanoid with some monstrous features (horns, tail, and leathery wings), and not a monstrous creature with some or no humanoid features (which is the barest physical definition of a demon).

D&D 4th edition is a new cosmology entirely. Page 17 of Worlds and Monsters declares "The Great Wheel is dead." It's not that the people of Greyhawk or Planescape are wondering why succubi became Lawful; rather, 4e is set in a different cosmology where succubi have always been Lawful.

In the Forgotten Realms

More complexity arises in the Forgotten Realms, where, canonically, the same continuous world has progressed through each edition of D&D. The transition of the Forgotten Realms from 3e to 4e was largely explained by the Spellplague, which changed the cosmology dramatically. The Forgotten Realms wiki notes:

Most of the Outer Planes were either destroyed or merged with others, creating the Astral dominions. Entirely new Astral dominions also arose because of the Spellplague.

With his new found godly power, Asmodeus took advantage of the planar instability to hurl the Abyss to the Elemental Chaos in an attempt to end the Blood War. Asmodeus failed, however, as throwing the Abyss into the Chaos did not stop the Blood War, although it was stalled by a hundred years.

The Forgotten Realms novel Fire in the Blood explains that Asmodeus' actions in the Spellplague are believed to be responsible for the change in the succubus' loyalties:

"The succubi are our sisters-at-arms," Lorcan said, repeating the phrase like a catechism. "Asmodeus freed them from the turmoil of the Abyss and found them their true place among us. And anyway," he added, " I doubt strongly there are any succubi in Stygia."

Brimstone Angels describes that the succubi defected to Asmodeus:

That mad, demon spark, as far as Lorcan and most of the Hells were concerned, still lingered. You could see it in their eyes. It didn't matter if they'd turned traitor just as Asmodeus rose to godhood, ceding their blood and their offspring's blood to the lord of the Ninth's control, and—the rumors went—giving Asmodeus the last bit of power he needed to hurl the Abyss to the very farthest reaches of the Elemental Chaos, ending the war for good.

Lorcan had his doubts about that—everyone claimed to have been the lynchpin of Asmodeus's ascension. Sycophants, all of them.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't say "succubi have always been lawful" as much as "succubi have always been devils" or "succubi have never been Chaos"; in 4E demons are agents of the corrupted primordials trying to break all creation, who everyone fights equally. Coincidentally, primordials trying to break all creation were also brought back to the FR cosmology as part of the events of the Spellplague. If you don't have the 4E Forgotten Realms Campaign Setting, "Abeir" and "the Sundering" are useful wiki keywords. \$\endgroup\$ – Glazius Jul 15 at 14:03

Sadly, there is no in-universe explanation for the recategorization. There's a story presented in Dragon Magazine 417 but it's purely retcon. The real world reason is that it was a result of "demon" and "devil" being more clearly defined.

Demons are creatures corrupted by the Abyss that thrive on raw chaos and destruction. Devils are fallen servants of the gods that employ temptation, manipulation, and seduction in hopes of corrupting, and ultimately ruling, the universe rather than destroying it. Because of this redefinition, some monsters were re-categorized. The most prominent among these was the succubus, which no longer fit the mold as a demon.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you add the link to the 417 and quote the relevant passages that specify it's about the definitions of demons and evils? I think you have the quote in there? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 14 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can't because I was accessing a Google cached copy of the page since it's blocked at work. If I remember I can add it after work otherwise anyone can feel free to edit it in. \$\endgroup\$ – Himitsu_no_Yami Jul 14 at 17:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the quote you have in there from it? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jul 14 at 17:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think 'more clearly defined' is quite a stretch. There's quite a wealth of information for AD&D that we don't have now for 5e, and all that stuff about the blood war, among other things. I mean, the whole thing with the differentiation between the Tanar'ri and other sorts of demons seems like it on its own has more information about the nature of demons and the abyss than we get in 5e. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Jul 14 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ That was the definition of “demon” for literal decades prior to 4e. That explanation is pure BS. Like, that might be the official line, but this answer would be much improved by pointing out how nonsensical it is, official or not. (The reality is almost-certainly that someone on the 4e team had a pet peeve disagreement with the categorization and in 4e finally had authority enough to change it to match their personal idiosyncratic preferences.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jul 14 at 18:55

Perhaps the authors of the previous editions in-universe texts were Clueless.

You could just write off previous material as being the result of scholars from the Prime Material plane who didn't know how the Outer Planes really worked. In Planescape, the term for individuals from the Prime Material was Clueless, and I believe that this may have been in part an attempt at explaining ADnD's retcons of the planes and their inhabitants (e.g. renaming the devils and demons as Baatezu and Tanarri during the 1e to 2e transition to appease the ongoing moral panic at the time), as well as its own retcons regarding the names and structure of the Outer Planes.

In the case of the 5e books, this is certainly true, because they're written by in-universe characters native to the Prime Material Plane - Volo's Guide to Monsters was written by a bard from Faerun, Xanathar's Guide to Everything was written by a Faerunian beholder, and Mordenkainen's Tome of Foes was written by Mordenkainen, an archmage from Greyhawk.

Additionally, there was a short story in an old issue of Dragon that indicated that Ed Greenwood (the creator of the Forgotten Realms setting) was actually himself a powerful wizard who regularly had meetings with other archmages from the settings of ADnD, which would mean that the officially-published books themselves can become viewed with suspicion as being "in-universe" documents written by in-universe versions of their actual authors on an in-universe version of Earth as a result of communication with individuals from other planes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure pure speculation is an appropriate answer here. \$\endgroup\$ – Thomas Markov Jul 14 at 18:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ It's backed up with historical precedent, at least - especially since the 5e books after the corebooks are all in-universe documents written by particular characters native to Faerun. \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Jul 14 at 18:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is there any indication that the Monster Manual is meant to be written from an in-universe perspective and could be wrong about things like that? \$\endgroup\$ – John Montgomery Jul 14 at 18:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JohnMontgomery At the very least, the ADnD Monster Manuals apparently were, since they were part of the retcons being addressed by Planescape. \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Jul 14 at 18:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JohnMontgomery Also, just remembered the story about Ed Greenwood having dinner with Elminster and a bunch of other DnD archmages. \$\endgroup\$ – nick012000 Jul 14 at 18:49

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